Friday, September 19, 2014


Packaging media law and human rights to boost Peace Journalism By Moses Sserwanga ,Garmisch Germany Many journalists in Uganda enter newsrooms with little or even no knowledge of the legal regime that governs the practice of journalism in the country. As mentioned in several other articles in this journal, majority of journalists, especially at upcountry radio stations lack even the basic media training. Indeed some of these people pick up journalistic skills which get sharpened through experience, and in-house training. But knowledge of media has to be acquired through training, and continuous refresher courses. The journalists that the Uganda Media Development Foundation trains in peace journalism largely fall in this category. Many are good, talented but lacking in this legal knowledge. Through experience, pitfalls in stories produced and by reflecting on questions the trainees ask during the workshops, UMDF decided that training in peace journalism alone would be less successful if the trainees did not have broad knowledge of how to practice without getting in conflict with the law. In partnership with Bread for the World, resources have been made available for the training of journalists and other media workerson elements of peace journalism and media law. Already, some 200 journalists in the Central, Eastern, Northern and Karamoja regions are undertaking training in week long seminars and follow-up mentorship one –on –one session. Therefore, the recent training workshops in peace journalism are now delivered as a package. Apart from peace journalism knowledge and skills, the trainers also deliver modules about media law and aspects of political reporting. The other reason is local research done shows that such training sessions, as those conducted by UMDF, are the only opportunity journalists get to acquire professional knowledge they so badly need to practice. Media owners and managers do not have budgets for training as theirs are predominantly privately owned media companies out to make a profit. Even in more established media organisations with bigger budgets, training budgets have been slashes and employers expect job seekers to come with knowledge already acquired. Lack of basic legal knowledge and media laws have led to several problems: countless law suits against media houses; dismissal of offending journalists; failure to enrich stories and contextualize information from a legal perspective. Many journalists suffer intimidation, arrests and physical assault and they do not know how to get redress simply because they do not know the law and their rights.Many cases have been reported where reporters tools of the trade such as cameras and notebooks, phones, have been confiscated and others destroyed by the state agents. Peace journalism practice deals with the process of enabling the resolution of conflicts. This requires of journalists to have some basic legal literacy and a good understanding, in particular, of the laws relating to journalism, and essentials of human rights. Indeed, conflict situations have inherent human rights issues. At every mentoring visit, these issues are emphasised and new elements introduced. The purpose is to gradually equip the journalists with these important knowledge and skills in a phased manner. It is even more pertinent today for journalists to have a good understanding of the regal regime in Uganda. The state of media freedom in Uganda The Minister of Information recently released a set of controversial media regulation proposals which, according to legal experts will restrict freedom of expression in Uganda if they are allowed to pass. The proposedregulations seek to impose registration and licensing requirements on both the print and electronic media. This proposal conflicts with Articles 27 and 41 of Uganda’s Constitutionwhich provide for freedoms of expression and of the press, and freedom of accessto information. Both these are fundamental freedoms. There cannot be a true democratic society without a free press to guard against the excesses of the state or government presided over by elected leaders. Indeed Uganda courts have underlined the importance of these freedoms. In the land mark Uganda Supreme Court case of Charles Onyango- Obbo and Andrew Mujuni Mwenda vs. Attorney General (AG) court stated: “It’s difficult to imagine a guaranteed right more important to democratic society than freedom of expression. The proposed regulations indicate that press freedom in Uganda is viewed not as a constitutional guarantee but as a mere public relations showpiece while in essence, the provisions shield public officials from media scrutiny. For peace journalists, these provisions threaten the environment where they can effectively report on activities of powerful individuals who might be linked to some conflicts going on in the country. Uganda already has a broad legal regime. The Press and Journalists Act, The Electronic Media Act, The Access to Information Act and The Communications Act are some of the laws. In total thirteen different pieces of law, including the Penal Code Act contain provisions that in different ways impact on the practice of journalism. There are detailed punitive measures for breach of the laws and ethical codes of practice are also in force. So what are the reasons behind the proposed additional regulatory measures? As Uganda heads towards general elections in 2016, many conflicts with a political dimension are bound to occur and it is paramount that these fundamental freedoms are respected. Only then will journalists be able to practice peace journalism effectively, to talk to all sides in conflicts and to speak truth to power. In the same Supreme Court case cited above, the judges noted that “in a free democratic society it is almost too obvious to need stating that those who hold office in government and who are responsible for public administration must always be open to criticism. Any attempt to stifle or fetter such criticism amounts to political censorship of the most insidious and objectionable kind.” The proposed amendments to media regulation are just but an example of the fluid environment for media practice which all journalists should be aware of and the dangers they pose for the country’s democracy. The knowledge of the media law and human rights that is part of the compendium of UMDF’s peace journalism training should prepare the peace journalism practitioners to negotiate the terrain with more confidence. James Madison, fourth President of the United States put it this way, that knowledge will forever govern ignorance and a people who mean to be their own governors, must arm themselves with the power knowledge gives. A vibrant and free media environment is but the hallmark of civil liberties. Moses Sserwanga is an Advocate of the High Court of Uganda and a Media, Legal consultant/ trainer. Garmisch Germany

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